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Clegg Defends Policies To Disillusioned Lib Dem

Thursday 10th January 2013

Nick Clegg was forced to defend his policies after being challenged by a disillusioned Liberal Democrat member live on LBC 97.3

In the first of his weekly Call Clegg phone-ins, the Deputy Prime Minister got a call from John in Woking, who said: "I'm a Liberal Democrat who has just torn up his membership card.

"I joined in 1973 and I'm afraid I can't now say I want to represent the Liberal Democrats. I'm an ex-county councillor in Surrey and I am ashamed of what the party's doing." 

The Deputy PM was forced to listen as the caller read out the pledges on the card, which include building a "fair, free and open society" in which no-one is "enslaved by poverty".

John challenged Mr Clegg to explain how he could reconcile the party's principles with "this Government's attacks on the poorest in society".

The politician asked him to give the party credit for measures like raising the income tax threshold and introducing a pupil premium for children from poor backgrounds.

He insisted he was "immensely proud" that the Lib Dems had taken the "brave" decision to enter a partnership with the Tories, but admitted it had been at "some political cost".

MPs have this week voted in favour of a one percent cap on working age benefits.

"I took no relish in saying that people who receive benefits and tax credits will not have those increased by more than 1% over the next three years," he admitted.

"But equally we've already said to teachers and nurses and doctors and social workers and other people in the public sector 'look, were very sorry, there isn't any money… because Labour left the cupboard bare' - so we're simply taking that same approach."

He was also questioned by Laura, a student in Birmingham, while live on air . She questioned how he expects young people to trust the Liberal Democrats after breaking their pre-election promise not to allow tuition fees rises.

"With the new system students won't have to pay fees upfront," he said in defence of the fees. "Even though you'll have to pay back for longer you'll have to pay back less out of your pay-packet as the threshold for repayments is higher than the scheme under Labour."

He then went on to blame the current economic climate for the need to make that decision.

"Whether you or I like it we are living in a country at the moment facing the consequences of one of the biggest independent meltdowns.

"We've got a big job to do and that requires hard decisions"

When pushed by LBC 97.3's Nick Ferrari he reiterated his apology for making the promise in the first place.

"It is certainly one of my biggest regrets that I made a promise that we were clearly unable to do. Maybe if I had been made Prime Minister..."

Call Clegg will return to LBC 97.3 again next Thursday 9-9.30am.

See our live blog from this week's show